30 November 2006

Oishi ne!

Fast food and me don't go (they really stink), with a few exceptions. Like when I'm craving for something sweet, cold, cheap and quick, I will put on a wig, wear a fake moustache, hold my breath and order a fifty cents vanilla ice cream cone from Mc-D. When I pass by Mos Burger or KFC and could do with something satisfying and am not counting the calories, I'd order a pack of their fat (in all senses of the word) fries or potato wedges.

But when my mum waxed lyrical about a certain pizza joint called Oishi, I was intrigued. Having had excellent pizza during my Eurotrip with darling Yin, and being a new thin-crust convert, I was understandably also skeptical. So when she suggested ordering in one Saturday afternoon from Oishi Pizza, I said 'Bring it on!'

Since it took almost 1.5 hours to reach us, that makes it possibly the slowest fast food ever. We had ordered a Kim Chi one (for my brother's Korean food phase), and an Unagi one together with some potato croquettes and two types of salad. Forty bucks in total for 4 people, it was not too bad value for money. The tastes were also quite decent, though the Kim Chi one oddly had loads of black pepper. Perhaps it is just the novelty of it all (first time seeing Edamame and seaweed on my pizza), but I quite enjoyed it. So did the rest of my family.

My only gripe is the fact that the crust was thick, unlike what my mum gets when she orders it to her office. Different branches have different standards perhaps, but I sure could do with much, much thinner crusts. At least it was soft, fluffy and easily digestible.

Oishi Pizza

26 November 2006

Justin Adria or Ferran Quek

Tomato and Basil is a foolproof combination especially when it comes to pasta sauces, as shown in the previous entry. Justin Quek's beautifully written cookbook - Passion and Inspiration features one such recipe of a Roasted Tomato Soup and Basil Foam. This was one of the few recipes that did not include what I call a luxury ingredient like truffle, caviar, foie gras, hairy crab etc... But then again, one can always substitute these items with a similar and less costly item that can still result in something beautiful.

While the recipe featured an extremely clean, light and bright red soup with a basil foam island, I (lazily) skipped the conical straining part and instead opted for a thick pureed roasted tomato soup with a ring of basil foam made with a gourmet whip rather than a frother. I also slow-roasted some lovely baby plum tomatoes, which turned intense and chewy, to furnish the soup with.

I had to wing the recipe for the basil foam after reading through a few of Ferran Adria's recipes in The Cook's Book. Thankfully the proportions I used resulted in a suitably airy, smooth and rich concoction that was perfumed with the freshly plucked basil leaves.

For the benefit of those without a Gourmet Whip (that's you, Guan), I will post up Justin Quek's recipe for the basil foam as well. Justin's roasted tomato soup was absolutely a delight to start off a meal nonetheless, and worth keeping for future reference. I've got to get myself one of those conical strainers soon though, to taste the resulting soup that Justin intended for our palates.

Roasted Tomato Soup with Basil Foam and Slow Roasted Tomatoes
Adapted from Justin Quek and Ferran Adria's recipes
Serves 6

800 g tomatoes, cut into quarters
50ml olive oil
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 garlic clove, peeled
50g unsalted butter
400 g canned whole peeled tomatoes
1 tbspn sugar
1 tbspn red wine vinegar
600ml chicken stock
salt to taste
dried basil (optional)

100ml cream
15g basil leaves
2 egg whites
a pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 175 degrees celcius.
Warm the cream and basil leaves in a small saucepan for 5 mins without letting the cream boil, then leave to cool.
Heat olive oil in a roasting pan on your stove.
Add onion, celery and garlic.
Fry for 5 mins before adding fresh tomatoes and butter.
Stir well and place the roasting pan into oven.
Stir occasionally until they are caramelised (40 mins).
Add tinned peeled tomatoes and sugar mid-way into the roasting time.
Season with salt and deglaze with vinegar.

Transfer mixture into a saucepan, making sure to scrape off all caramelised bits stuck to the roasting pan.
Add chicken stock, bring to boil and simmer for 30 mins.
Blend in a food processor.

Meanwhile, strain the cooled basil-infused cream.
Whisk egg whites to loosen it up and whisk in cream.
Strain and pour into gourmet whip then follow manufacturer's instructions.
Keep in a bain marie at 65 degrees celcius for at least 10 minutes.

When ready to serve, bring the soup to boil again and season with salt to taste.
Ladle soup into bowls.
Pipe foam onto each bowlful of soup and garnish with slow roasted tomatoes (just replace tomatoes with halved baby plum tomatoes) and a sprinkle of dried basil.

Justin Quek's Basil Foam

Warm 100ml of milk with 25 grams of basil leaves in a small saucepan for 5 mins without letting milk boil.
Blend the mixture in a food processor and strain through a fine sieve.
Just before serving, froth the basil milk with a hand blender and spoon some onto each bowlful of soup.

23 November 2006

Home Making

Before I got serious in cooking/baking and was basically just pottering around the kitchen haphazardly in the hopes of creating something beautiful and miraculously tasty as well, I never thought that certain foods were possible to make from scratch, at home.

Puff pastry is one of them, though it's more because I tried it before and my croissant dreams turned into a gloppy mess of oily dough. I don't think I have to elaborate on what became of my 'croissant' even though it was tasty. Plenty of oil combined with soothing carbs, plus a not so discriminate palate, made for a very sinful and happy snack.

Then of course there was ice-cream that in my mind was the product of many little elves working till late at night to tunes from Disney, in some all white factory just to produce those little pints of heaven. That was until S introduced me to her home-made ice cream.

Now, there's pasta. After my failure at making ravioli for my girlfriends (yes daffy, what were you thinking making ravioli for the first time for a party?!), I was determined never to attempt home-made pasta again. It seemed impossible. My dough was thick, and it all stuck to the baking paper, making it impossible to peel off and cook without having the filling of chestnuts and charsiew spill out all over the place. I was so ashamed I wanted to drill a hole in my floor and jump through it into my neighbours' house to cry.

But I had read about so many other floggers who have attempted home-made pasta and succeeded. So why couldn't I? Could the secret be in their flour? Their eggs? Their hands? Or their PASTA MACHINE?? Determined, I trooped down to Sia Huat to get one. Guess what, the one I saw was SGD$2000 and they ran out of manual hand-cranking pasta machines. But then off to Lau Choy Seng, their slightly shabby looking neighbour and purchased a decent looking all steel beauty at a far lower price.

Last weekend, I used it and after a little muddling around, managed to churn out some decent looking raviolis, fettucine and vermicelli. For lunch today with my mum, I just sauteed onions and garlic, added a can of peeled tomatoes (chopped up), soaked porcini mushrooms, sugar and salt, to create a flavourful tomato based sauce. Served with the home-made pasta and garnished with fresh torn basil, it made for a fantastic lunch.

My only gripe is how the home-made, dried then frozen pasta, when boiled remains in clumps in certain parts. Or was I not supposed to freeze it? *gasp*

18 November 2006

The Greatest Mee Pok

Mee Pok Uncle has passed away. He followed SCGS's growth from its old building along Emerald Hill to its current site at Dunearn Road and nourished many girls including me. While I may not have eaten Mee Pok everyday while studying at SC, because of the ridiculously long queues, I do love his Mee Pok.

My order was always 'Uncle, Mee Pok, gan de (dry), shen me dou yao (give me the full works), lao jiao bu yao (except chilli).' For 70cents per bowl, it was ridiculously cheap for something so deliciously satisfying. He is the only Mee Pok man who adds enough black vinegar for me not to have to ask for more. So much so that almost all SC girls' (or at least my close friends) definition of a good Mee Pok is a good dose of black vinegar, among other things.

Mee Pok Uncle's funeral, which I missed, was today. My girlfriends and I had a bowl of mee pok each in his honour. Though the bowl that we had was pretty darned good (I shall be blogging about that soon), it is really second to THE SC mee pok. The following generations of SCGS girls will sadly be missing out on something great.

Here's to Mr. Ang, the real Mee Pok Man.

15 November 2006

Just so you know.

Sin Kee is now renovating and will be back with a bang soon!

I didn't realise until my brother brought me along for his weekly fix of chicken rice.

Steven is now operating at block 44 Holland Drive, unit #02-18 ( I think), right next to his wife's laksa stall. Awww.

12 November 2006

Don't Mess Around

I love playing around with recipes, and that's a fact. Case in point: Beef Stroganoff with coconut cream. It's not uncommon, however. Most budding chefs/serious-foodies-who-venture-into-the-kitchen will often find themselves trying to put a little of who they are (not literally of course) into what they cook for their loved ones.

The feeling of following a recipe to the letter, executing it with utmost precision and achieving no less than perfect results is overwhelmingly satisfying. But adapting a recipe to your own personality and finding that it makes your dish even better is, well...... even better!

But some things are just not meant to be played around with. Like steak. As I looked around in my cupboards and fridge, I saw plenty of opportunities to tweak a basic salt and black pepper seasoning for steak. Plenty of dried herbs were on hand, tabasco sauce, chocolate, plenty of flavoured vinegars and oils, and even coconut cream (again).

But I decided to be conservative this time and merely seasoned my rib-eye steak with pounded mustard seeds, black peppercorns and Maldon sea salt. Though I'm sure steak purists would be screaming at me by now for even adding black peppercorns and mustard. Baked in the oven at 100 degrees celcius for 20 minutes, then seared over high heat for 2 minutes on each side, the steak came out just under well-done. I definitely need an instant-read meat thermometer.

But the rib-eye, being rib-eye, still took well to being well-done as not much jaw work was required. Served with a generous dollop of Dijon mustard, it made for an extremely filling and iron-packed lunch. I'll just have to leave the daily fibre loading to dinner time.

05 November 2006

Beef Stroganoff, my way.

My plans for a great Sunday were almost thrown to nought when I realised that I had bought the wrong ingredient for a recipe I have earmarked to try for a while now. Instead of getting thick, juicy tenderloins (1.5 inches thick) for a thick-cut pan seared steak recipe, I ended up with two pieces of rib-eye steaks just 1 inch thick.

Instead of letting this small setback ruin my perfect weekend (thus far at least), I scoured through the few cookbooks I have for a recipe that involved rib-eye steaks. That's when I chanced upon a Beef Stroganoff recipe by Marcus Wareing, from The Cook's Book.

While Beef Stroganoff has been widely associated with a 19th Century Russian noble, Count Pavel Stroganoff, evidence of other similar recipes have been found to exist since the 18th Century. It may be true that the Count's near celebrity status as a gourmand and his love for entertaining popularised the dish, however the exact origin of the dish is still indeterminate.

The main components of a traditional Beef Stroganoff are strips of beef, mushrooms, onions and sour cream. Commonly served with noodles or rice, there are international variations of the dish which include anything from tomato sauce to mustard.

Today, I decided to give Beef Stroganoff a little twist by using coconut cream instead of sour cream, adding some tomato puree, and just a portion of thinly sliced red pepper. Not a big fan of sour cream myself, I was more than willing to substitute it with something as familiar and embracing to my palate as coconut cream. As the strips of rib-eye were sauteed over high heat for just a few minutes, they remained tender, moist and flavourful. The dish was utterly rich and comforting because of the coconut cream while the puree added a twangy sweetness that brought another refreshing dimension to the overall flavour of the dish.

A total cinch to make, Beef Stroganoff will be a dish I will definitely make again. Perhaps when I have guests over, considering how easy it is to prepare. If served atop some stained-glass ravioli, they can turn into something not just decadently soothing but also elegant.

The only time consuming part of the whole process would be the slicing of the onions and beef. But with my new, ultra sharp made-in-Japan knife, the time involved was effortlessly fractioned. Now that I have tried a good, solid chef knife, it is truly difficult to move back to mediocre and easily blunt knives. But without a proper knife holder (just waiting to be put up) in place in my kitchen, I have to ridiculously keep the knives in the drawers in their original packaging for fear of damaging their blades. But I digress.

The whole dish took me just about 20 minutes to prepare from the slicing to the washing up. I imagine that this would be a great dish to prepare after work since it requires only a few ingredients and minimal effort. For guys who are planning a surprise loving-home-cooked dinner for their girlfriends, this is quite a friendly recipe to work with as well.

Beef Stroganoff (Daffy's way)
Serves 3 with rice/potatoes/noodles

1 tbspn olive oil
3 tbspn butter
1 big white onions, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 cup packed porcini mushrooms (soaked in water until soft)
500g rib eye steak, cut into strips 1x3 inches
150ml coconut cream
4 tbspn tomato puree
1 tbspn sugar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
spring onions (optional)

Heat oil and half the butter over medium high heat and fry onions and red bell peppers until onions turn translucent and peppers soften.
Add mushrooms and fry for 2-3 minutes.
Remove onions, peppers and mushroms from pan with a slotted spoon.

Add remaining butter to pan and heat until beginning to foam.
Add steak and saute quickly over high heat for 3 minutes until browned on all sides.
Return onion mixture to pan and stir to mix with meat.

Add coconut cream, tomato puree and sugar, stirring until well combined.
Season with salt and pepper.
Garnish with sliced spring onions before serving.

04 November 2006

Dessert overload

My interest in the kitchen started during my secondary school days through Home Economics where we learnt how to make Kueh Dadar, scones and cheese twists among many others. Although we had attempted savoury food as well, my most vivid memories of Home Economics involved the sweets.

The oven was a good friend of mine, along with the spatula, electric mixer and plenty and plenty of sugar. All this was until my brother started complaining that he was getting a sugar overload from being my perpetual guinea pig. And that his waistline was expanding rather drastically, along with my Dad's and my Mum's. It was only then that I decided to venture into stove-work for the sake of my family's hearts and girths.

But though I have derived numerous hours of pleasure in the kitchen steaming crab for the first time, or searing lamb cutlets, or creating a dressing for salads using some precious olive oil I bought from Lisbon, I am still a dessert-addict at heart.

After every meal, I have to have a sugar fix. Even if it is just a small bowl of red bean soup, or some green tea ice cream, or even just a cream puff or two. But when it is a huge platter of desserts as such......

... or two, then all the better.

Somehow, I managed to cajole two friends of mine into paying a dollar more each ($14 as opposed to $13) to get a dessert sampler for 4 at Corduroy after our dinner there (the food was not bad, but in light of that huge dessert platter, it has now faded into the abysses of my memory). That's right, we asked for a dessert sampler for 4 persons, when there was only three of us. Even the waitress advised us that it was quite alot. We did finish it all in the end, though it really was a little too much.

The selection of cakes and pastries was varied enough for our tastebuds to not be oversaturated with a particular flavour, but the chocolate platter was just a little too much. Sharing ONE truffle among three people was quite fun and challenging though. To not take too big a bite as to rob others of trying it, yet to not take too small a bite that would not allow a proper tasting of the truffle. Eating the various desserts using the miniscule cutlery that we were provided with was thoroughly amusing as well.

All in all, while most of the desserts were not particularly memorable, they were great eye-candy (in all senses of the word) and worth a try at least once. I really do love those glass dishes, and am adding them to the long list that I have accumulated by now- of tableware that I am getting for my kitchen that I'm still working on slowly.

03 November 2006

Eat your greens!

I popped by GoneFishing the other day with Jen, for another very lovely one-on-one chat. I love the place oodles. Their smoked salmon sandwich may not be fancy, but it was good enough not to make me turn it away. Plus it came with a side of well dressed salad and a beautiful curl of crunchy carrot (see above). Or crunchy carrot curl - Alliteration!

I adore the place also because of how it helps budding photographers/artists/singers by allowing them to showcase their talents through the cafe. That canvas painting in the background was enchanting and I would have bought it immediately had I a place of my own.

One day, I hope to see Jen's photos up there as well, for grabs and awe.